Los Confederados in Brazil: Recreating the Southern American Dream

By Emily Galik

Edited by Elizabeth Cavacos and Cole Horton 

Emily Galik is a senior at Tulane University pursuing degrees in History and Political Science. Her historical research focuses on the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, predominantly in the fields of Civil War history, women’s history, the history of social reform, and musical history. She is currently researching the music of the Civil War for her senior honors thesis, which will be completed in spring 2018. Her case study “Dorothea Dix, Superintendent of Nurses: When an Activist Becomes an Administrator” is awaiting publication in the Tulane journal Women Leading Change: Case Studies on Women, Gender, and Feminism.

After the Confederate States of America’s (CSA) defeat in the Civil War, Southerners became apprehensive about the government’s approaching Reconstruction measures. Radical Republicans called to impose sanctions on the defeated region to thoroughly punish the former Confederacy for its rebellion. Policies such as the deployment of limited numbers of federal troops to supervise reconstruction efforts and federally protected efforts of social reorganization caused former slaveholders to balk at the region’s post-war trajectory. Abolition and the enfranchisement of former male slaves, enforced by occupying US troops, represented a threat to the antebellum Southern societal hierarchy. These policies disrupted the notion that only white men could exercise the full privileges of citizenship. Instead of enduring these massive changes, close to 4,000 white Southerners fled the United States to Brazil — a country and society they believed institutionalized their ideals.[1]

Former Confederate migrants’ personal wealth determined their ability to settle in Brazil, weeding out settlers with limited financial resources. The remaining Confederados found comfort in a patriarchal society in Brazil similar to their homeland, but ultimately isolated themselves within the country due to the different function of race in Brazilian society, coupled with a continued identification with a Southern, Confederate heritage.

Background

In the late 1860s, Brazil was a fledgling democracy and constitutional monarchy. Due to Brazil’s recent transition from a Portuguese colony to an independent state, its economy centered on the production of raw goods. Although Brazil was not a large producer of cotton, it also utilized a plantation-based system of agriculture relying upon slave labor. However, there remained a glaring difference between Brazil and the United States: their race relations. While American Southern society possessed strict divisions along racial and then class lines, Brazil had a long history of interracial interaction.

Instead of segregating Brazilian society by color, Brazilians abided by the concept of miscigenacão, or race mixture, which accepted interracial interaction and marriage and embraced racial ambiguity. While free Brazilians of African descent disproportionately occupied positions on the socioeconomic spectrum below their white counterparts, financial wealth — not racial background — ultimately determined one’s social status in Brazil. This directly contrasted with Americans’ desire to define race and to segregate society accordingly.[2]

Americans grew familiar with Brazil in the 1820s and 1830s as the United States became a market for the Brazil’s agricultural products, including coffee.[3] Brazil and the United States also became united in another sector of the global marketplace: the slave trade. After Congress abolished the transatlantic African slave trade in the U.S. in 1808, American traders transported slaves to Brazil instead, continuing to smuggle slaves into the country after the legal end to the Atlantic slave trade there in 1830.[4]

In the 1840s, Americans began sailing to California to participate in the Gold Rush. Brazilian ports became common stops for ships transporting these prospective miners, and American travelers, including individuals who had never encountered slavery before, encountered Brazil’s brutal form of the institution during their stops. These Americans transmitted their stories home, sending an unprecedented amount of information about Brazil and its slave society to the United States. American abolitionists believed these tales supported their opposition to slavery, while supporters of slavery grew intrigued by tales of a foreign, fellow aristocratic slave society.[5]

In the late 1860s, coinciding with the end of the American Civil War, the Brazilian government began a concerted effort to recruit foreigners to settle and farm its tropical frontier.[6] Brazilian representatives gauged interest in the United States, and found it in white Southerners looking to escape the reconstructed South. The Brazilian government negotiated with American settlement companies to ensure favorable, reduced settlement costs for their recruited migrants, along with a series of frontier colonies to be governed by each settlement’s own municipal government.[7] It became the responsibility of the American companies to recruit Southerners to settle its lands, and the responsibility of Southerners to accept the settlement terms and emigrate.

The First Wave

These white Southerners believed that moving to Brazil — which maintained legal slavery and a plantation system — would allow them to make their fortunes over again in the economic system that had previously dominated the Southern United States. Businessmen recruiting migrants to the Brazilian countryside encouraged these potential migrants’ hopes. One such businessman, Frank McMullen, highlighted that settlement companies, as “responsible parties,” made travel to the new country simple, and described land exclusively set aside for “us and our friends, by the Brazilian Government.”[8] These claims of easy travel and settlement augmented the fact that former Confederates had long been told their settlement “would prodigiously augment the power of Brazil,” implying the migrants had a place within the country’s planter aristocracy if they chose to emigrate.[9] This depiction of settlement in Brazil presented the process in a positive light, as an easy journey and straightforward opportunity for economic success.

In the absence of economic success, travelers presented a less positive view of their Brazilian experience. One Columbus newspaper reported a man sold his daughters into slavery to settle the debts he acquired in the country.[10] While little evidence substantiates the claim, the rumor itself holds significance. The prospect that a white Southern man had to sell his white Southern daughters into slavery horrified an American audience, and emphasized the profound economic losses possible upon immigrating to Brazil. This supposedly economically disenfranchised man could not recreate the Southern economic dream in his new country, and paid the price with the complete symbolic upheaval of his ideal system.

Many former Confederate migrants to Brazil had to return to the United States economically ruined. Contemporary Americans who encountered the traveling settlers remarked that they “belong[ed] to that middle class of farmers … still belligerent” enough to separate themselves from the South and its current state, and to recreate their ideal society abroad.[11] As such, this class of migrants could not afford the upfront costs necessary for large-scale agriculture. Financial straits could become pronounced due to the fact that Southern families lost their livelihoods during the Civil War and then spent large sums of their remaining pittance on the journey to Brazil. They were left with little money to spend on new farm equipment, slave labor, and the agricultural facilities to process their product.

Meanwhile, wealthier migrants seem to have thrived in the long term. In 1870 the Mobile Register attempted to identify migrants who remained in Brazil, including in their list 7 former Confederate colonels, 3 majors, 3 captains, and 7 doctors out of 70 named individuals. [12] To earn these titles in the South at this time, one had to be—with few exceptions—a male white planter with the means to pay for the education qualifying him for these positions. An evaluation of the 1860 census found the planter elite made up approximately 2.5% of Southerners, while the above list of men identified 13% of former Confederate settlers in Brazil as members of the planter elite based on title alone.[13] Considering wealthy settlers without military or specialized educational titles cannot be identified in this tally of migrants and would only increase the number of planter elite, this report appears to confirm the long-term success of wealthy white Southern migrants by way of their unusually high concentration amongst migrants in Brazil.

The possibility of failure could also be increased by the low quality of one’s land. Upon settlement, it became apparent certain colonies had little fertile land within their boundaries. Additionally, the rural locations of the colonies limited access to roads and other forms of transportation, making it difficult for the colonists to access manufactured goods and transport their crops. These issues combined led to the colonists’ agriculture yielding varying levels of financial returns.[14] Former planters with deeper pockets could afford to purchase new land at a more fertile colony, but not all settlers possessed this wealth. Unlike in the American South  where unfortunate citizens could be guaranteed a degree of social support and standing despite their poverty by virtue of their whiteness, Brazilian society did not uphold this norm, making the Southerners’ destitution all the more painful. Out of the six settlements established specifically for Southern migrants to Brazil, five of the six failed. The one surviving settlement, Villa Americana, possessed easy access to transportation lines and fertile soil, leading to a population descended from los Confederados surviving in the town to this day.[15]

Economic success in the Brazilian colonies operated on the premises of the plantation system as it existed in the antebellum American South. Successful former Southerners in Brazil validated their economic ideology, while the less successful had to return to their country of origin. Ultimately, class and land choice influenced the potential success of migrants’ plantations, and the economic disparity prevalent in the Southern economy reappeared; however, this time destitute Southern whites had to return to the United States, where whiteness guaranteed them a degree of social and economic standing. As in the American South, the planter class reigned supreme in Brazil.

Those Who Stayed: How They Made a New Life in Brazil

Antebellum Social Values

For white Southerners, the “politics of the household” became “inevitably politicized.”[16] The Southern slave system and its coinciding politics rested upon the foundation of these domestic conditions. White men served as the patriarchs of their families, and as enfranchised leaders in the ‘public sphere’ outside of the home. They drew this power from their dominance in the ‘private sphere’ of their own homes, where they exercised control over their dependents — slaves, women, and children. Men’s control of the home unit’s economic assets reinforced the social control over their dependents.[17]

White women could not control their own finances, vote, or orate at civic and commercial affairs like their male counterparts.[18] Their disenfranchisement took on a social dimension as well: through their voluntary submission in marriage. However, women exercised influence within the ‘private sphere’ of the home as the “pure” moral conscience of the family unit and “the queen of the home,” or head of household.[19]

While Southern society’s hierarchy partially depended on one’s wealth, all white Southerners were considered superior to their black counterparts, regardless of wealth. Few free people of color lived in the South, with pockets concentrated in urban areas. This small class existed below that of poor whites, but their freedom gave them status above enslaved blacks.[20]

When transitioning to life in the slave society of Brazil, white Southern migrants brought these beliefs with them, viewing the foreign land through the lens of their old society. For example, the Brazilian monarch’s positive description emphasizes his virility and propriety, as a man “six feet and a little over in h[e]ight, stoutly built,” as well as a “courteous,” “wise and far-seeing statesman,” and a “gentleman in every respect.”[21] Even when describing the Catholic monarch of a foreign country, former Confederates applied their standards of male respectability, and sought out comrades in their new fellow elite countryman.

The migrants applied antebellum norms other than their concept of masculinity to their Brazilian lives. In a letter to her mother, migrant Patti Steagall wrote of her concerns that she failed to fulfill her role as head of house due to her Brazilian context, as she felt she was unable to direct her house slaves “as I find they do not understand what little Portuguese I do speak.”[22] Here the language barrier between Steagall and her slaves coupled with her frustration demonstrate how her attempts to enforce antebellum social and gender norms became challenged in the Brazilian colonies. By abiding by these norms in Brazil, both male and female migrants attempted to recreate the former society of the American South.

American Southerners confronted Brazil’s slave society and differing racial hierarchy by rejecting it and favoring their own antebellum structure. In one letter to Virginia published in the Richmond Examiner, a man described Brazil’s slavery as of the “hardest kind,” citing scars covering slaves, and implying antebellum American slavery had been much more humane and appropriate. However, a more egregious possibility than the slaves’ treatment in Brazil arose upon one’s freedom: “where a negro is found free emancipated, he is allowed to associate by marriage and otherwise with the first in the Empire.” The man expressed disgust that Brazilian society permitted this interracial association in the open, and did not prohibit or conceal it as in the South. The substantial freed and mixed-race population confounded him, and he despised how “both sexes … going through the streets singing and talking” interpreting who may well be free people of color to be slaves not properly controlled by their masters.[23] By applying Southern antebellum social mores to his experiences in Brazil, the man attempted to identify with his Southern heritage and indicate how the Southern experience could be recreated: by eliminating freer forms of racial association, and by making black Brazilians as docile and servile as the attempted standard applied to African Americans in the United States.

Southern Nationalism

At the time of the former Confederate migrants’ departure in the late 1860s and early 1870s, Americans also pushed for Southerners to remain in the country. Calls resounded to “stand fast by the fatherland,” endure Reconstruction, and show courage in the face of retribution.[24] Not all Southerners heeded this plea to endure the humiliation of defeat, and so moved their families abroad — including to Brazil. However, this departure did not mean that the former Southerners lost their identity as such.

Appeals to the Confederate migrants’ sense of Southern nationalism began before their journey to Brazil. Foreign business interests and advertisers appealed to this sense of nationalism to market Brazil to Southerners, equating the foreign country with the lost Confederacy. One migrant recalls in an advertisement the days he lived in the CSA, calling the Brazilian weather “like that of Virginia in June.”[25] The man lent legitimacy to Brazil as a viable settlement option by equating it with a Southern state, and emphasized the environment’s ripeness to recreate one of the states of the Old South. When another businessman discusses Brazil’s economy, he made sure to note amongst his praise that Brazilian money “resemble[s] strikingly our Confederate money,” implying that the Brazilian government could be equated to that of the former Confederacy because they produced identical currency.[26]

White Southerners that settled and stayed in Brazil continued to emphasize and confirm their Southern identity, with migrants directly identifying with the issues surrounding the Civil War. Several migrants living in Villa Americana accepted invitations from the Daughters of the Confederacy to attend a Chattanooga, Tennessee reunion of veterans, demonstrating their fealty to the ‘lost cause’. When journalists asked their opinions of the war, the migrants affirmed “we still love the old flag,” identifying with the prominent national symbol of the former CSA.[27]

Migrants also maintained ties to their old political order by keeping in contact with those still in the United States. They corresponded with family members and friends in America, asking for reports on the state of their hometowns and describing their experiences in Brazil. Particularly successful migrants traveled in person to the US for limited amounts of time, where they would “enjoy a brief respite among old friends and relatives” before returning to their adopted home.[28] As mentioned above, former Southerners also maintained contact with their old home through former Confederate organizations, such as the Daughters of the Confederacy.[29]

Former Southerners in Brazil confirmed their “eager[ness] to hear about the new south,” and “apparently are still loyal to her, but none of them expressed any desire to return.”[30] This sentiment arose amongst the migrants as they found “the states so changed that they … no longer seem like home.”[31] By retreating into the frontier of their adopted state of Brazil and settling on their own terms, the Southerners found their enclaves more like the Old South than the New South did at the time. Ultimately, Southern nationalist sentiment bolstered Confederate migrants’ claims to a Southern identity, even as the state they demonstrated nationalism for faded in their absence.

Conclusion

In response to their Brazilian environment, former Confederate migrants continued to identify with their country of origin, and attempted to recreate the antebellum Southern experience. While not all migrants could stay in Brazil and achieve this dream due to their limited economic resources, Southerners with adequate wealth recreated their homeland in Brazilian frontier colonies by maintaining their Southern antebellum social values and nationalist devotion to the Confederacy. As an early effort to return to the social, political, and economic structure of the antebellum South, the migration can be seen as an early effort to revive the ‘lost cause’ of the Confederate States of America. Although the Brazilian state played a role in facilitating the emigration that made settlements like Villa Americana possible, the Southern migrants chose to isolate themselves and exist outside its slave society, discovering Brazil notably differed from the American South, and knew they could not change the society to fit their desires. Nonetheless, on a small scale, the Confederate migrants achieved what the Confederate States could not: an enduring political unit preserving Southern antebellum slave society. 

Bibliography

“Brazilians Going to Vets’ Reunion: Many Southerners Went to South America after the Close of the War.” Columbus Enquirer-Sun. May 17, 1913.

“Burton Visits Former Confederates in Brazil.” Plain Dealer. June 26, 1915.

“Confederate Emigrant Sold Daughters to Pay Brazil Debt.” Daily Columbus Enquirer. April 2, 1871.

Dawsey, Cyrus B. and James M. Dawsey. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998.

“The Emperor of Brazil.” Flake’s Bulletin. July 13, 1863.

Farnham, Christie Anne. The Education of the Southern Belle: Higher Education and Student Socialization in the Antebellum South. New York: New York University Press, 1994.

Forret, Jeff. Race Relations at the Margins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Antebellum Southern Countryside. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

“From Brazil.” Daily Columbus Enquirer. February 24, 1871.

Gilmore, Glenda Elizabeth. Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Hill, Lawrence F. “Confederate Exiles to Brazil.” Hispanic American Historical Review 7, no. 2 (1927): 192–210.

Horne, Gerald. The Deepest South: The United States, Brazil, and the African Slave Trade. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

“Life in Brazil: The Country, the Climate, the People, the Customs, Slavery in Brazil, &c.” Richmond Examiner. January 1, 1866.

Maury, Matthew Foutaine. Matthew Foutaine Maury to Mrs. William M. Blackford, December 21, 1851. Matthew Foutaine Maury Papers, 1825-1960, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

McCurry, Stephanie. “The Two Faces of Republicanism: Gender and Proslavery Politics in Antebellum South Carolina.” The Journal of American History 78, no. 4 (1992): 1245–64.

McMullen, Frank. “Brazil Still Alive!” New Orleans Times. January 24, 1867.

Peterson, Godfrey. “Americans in Brazil.” Mobile Register. February 23, 1870.

“Prospective Emigration to Brazil.” Republican Farmer. June 23, 1865.

Steagall, Patti. Patti Steagall to her mother, August 15, 1869. Confederados Collection 1861-1992, Auburn, AL. 

Stevens, Henry Shipley. Letter from Henry Shipley Stevens, December 17, 1865. Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.

Telles, Edward E. Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Weaver, Blanche Henry Clark. “Confederate Emigration to Brazil.” Journal of Southern History 27, no. 1, (1961): 33-53.

Williams, David. Rich Man’s War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

Endnotes

[1] Cyrus B. Dawsey and James M. Dawsey, The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 86.

[2] Edward E. Telles, Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 4.

[3] Gerald Horne, The Deepest South: The United States, Brazil, and the African Slave Trade (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 8.

[4] Ibid., 9, 23.

[5] Ibid., 105.

[6] Lawrence F. Hill, “Confederate Exiles to Brazil,” Hispanic American Historical Review 7, no. 2 (1927): 195.

[7] Ibid., 194.; “The News,” The Daily Age (Philadelphia, PA), June 14, 1865.

[8] Frank McMullen, “Brazil Still Alive!,” New Orleans Times, January 24, 1867.

[9] Matthew Foutaine Mary to Mrs. William M. Blackford, December 21, 1851, Matthew Foutaine Maury Papers, 1825-1960, Library of Congress.

[10] “Confederate Emigrant Sold Daughters to Pay Brazil Debt,” Daily Columbus Enquirer, April 2, 1871.

[11] Letter from Henry Shipley Stevens, December 17, 1865, Western Reserve Historical Society.

[12] Godfrey Peterson, “Americans in Brazil,” Mobile Register, February 23, 1870.

[13] David Williams, Rich Man’s War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 14.

[14] Blanche Henry Clark Weaver, “Confederate Emigration to Brazil,” Journal of Southern History 27, no. 1 (1961): 48.

[15] Hill, “Confederate Exiles to Brazil,” 206.

[16] Stephanie McCurry, “The Two Faces of Republicanism: Gender and Proslavery Politics in Antebellum South Carolina,” The Journal of American History 78, no. 4 (1992): 1246.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 95.

[19] Christie Anne Farnham, The Education of the Southern Belle: Higher Education and Student Socialization in the Antebellum South (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 16, 120.

[20] Jeff Forret, Race Relations at the Margins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Antebellum Southern Countryside (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 8.

[21] “The Emperor of Brazil,” Flake’s Bulletin (Galveston, TX), July 13, 1863.

[22] Patti Steagall to her mother, August 15, 1869, Confederados Collection 1861-1992, Auburn University.

[23] “Life in Brazil: The Country, the Climate, the People, the Customs, Slavery in Brazil, &c.,” Richmond Examiner, January 1, 1866.

[24] “Prospective Emigration to Brazil,” Republican Farmer, June 23, 1865.

[25] “Life in Brazil,” Richmond Examiner, January 1, 1866.

[26] “From Brazil,” Daily Columbus Enquirer, February 24, 1871.

[27] “Brazilians Going to Vets’ Reunion: Many Southerners Went to South America after the Close of the War,” Columbus Enquirer-Sun, May 17, 1913.

[28] “From Brazil,” Daily Columbus Enquirer, February 24, 1871.

[29] “Brazilians Going to Vets’ Reunion,” May 17, 1913.

[30] “Burton Visits Former Confederates in Brazil,” Plain Dealer, June 26, 1915.

[31] “Brazilians Going to Vets’ Reunion,” May 17, 1913.